Lessons for the young outdoor enthusiast

I recently went to a fly-tying workshop at Bristol’s Lawrence Memorial Library. Getting a lesson in tying flies from David Henderson and Bob Reynolds was not only highly enjoyable, it also reminded me of two important outdoor sporting lessons I learned when I was young.
The first was that outdoor sports can be expensive and dangerous. The second, and more important lesson, related to the first, had to do with which of my parents to go to for money and which to go to for permission.
If I needed a little money, my mother was the one. I didn’t have a job until my senior year of high school, so needing money was a regular problem. My mom understood this. If I were going to the movies — which in those days ran 2 to 3 dollars — I would ask for the bare minimum knowing that my mom would often give me five, or even 10 bucks, in case I wanted to go for ice cream afterwards.
In some ways, this was odd. My mother grew up the daughter of a poor southern Indiana coal miner turned preacher. His pay during the Great Depression was often not enough to feed his family, so he’d supplement his income hunting rabbits. Money did not grow on trees for my mother. Yet it was rare that she wasn’t good for a few bucks to help my social life.
Asking for permission to do something was another story. Anything you could imagine doing, my mother knew somebody related to somebody who had died or been seriously injured doing it. Conversations would run something like this.
“Mom, I’m going camping this weekend.”
“Oh, I’d rather you didn’t,” she’d reply. “You know your cousin had a good friend in high school who got mauled by a bear while camping.”
“Mom, I’m heading down to the stream to do some fishing.”
“Oh, that’s so dangerous,” she’d say, her face turning pale. (The neighborhood stream averaged 3 feet wide and 20 inches deep.) “You’d better wear a life jacket. Don’t go alone. And be careful of the hooks. I had a friend in high school whose sister was permanently disabled by a fishhook. The injury wouldn’t have been so bad, but her brother was busy drowning and couldn’t take the hook out.”
“Mom, I going down to the mailbox to get the mail.”
“Be very careful. Your cousin’s ex-wife had a niece who was hit by a snowplow on the way to the mailbox.”
“Mom, it’s July.”
“Well there are lots of crazy drivers out there.”
My dad was the complete reverse. “Dad, I’m biking 6 miles to town. Can I have a quarter for a soda?”
My Dad, who grew up the son of a doctor in a family with a maid and cook, would rub his chin a bit, and look around the house for any work that needed to be done. “Sure,” he’d eventually agree. “If you rake the orchard, and stack that two-cord pile of firewood.”
If I needed permission to do something, however, my dad was the one to ask. “Dad, is it okay if I go hiking this weekend up Dead Man’s Bluff with my friend Bad Luck Tim?”
“Have fun,” he’d say. “You might want to bring a raincoat, though, cause the weather forecast for the next two days is for a Category 4 storm with 12 inches of rain.”
“Dad, I’m going sky-diving with some friends from high school.”
“Have a good time.”
“We will. Though I’m a bit nervous. We’re going without parachutes to save some money.”
At this he might pause before replying, “Do your chores first then.”
Somehow I survived my youth. And my lessons have stood me in good stead. My hobbies are still expensive, and my mother is retired so I can’t really be begging her for money anymore, so I’ve no choice but to earn it the way my dad taught me. A single fishing fly, for example, which might last anywhere from a whole day to just 90 seconds, runs anywhere from $2 to $3.50. I can easily burn through $100 worth in a year.
So this summer I got myself a fly-tying kit and I’m going to start tying my own flies instead of buying them. I even went to the free lesson at the library, and tied a couple flies — bright yellow wooly buggers — that I’ll probably use the next time I go fishing.
I’m looking forward to tying several more. I have a long list of flies I need. Although, according to Henderson and Reynolds, by the time I’ve bought all the equipment and supplies necessary for the variety of flies I want, tying my own flies will be only nominally less expensive than buying them, and only if I tie them by the hundreds.
As for the danger, I don’t think my mother would need to worry. Although there were several pointed fishhooks in the room, as well as numerous other sharp tools, and one of the participants of the class was a 12-year-old, none of us got hurt tying any of the flies.
Using them, on the other hand, may be another thing. My mother has a son whose brother once hooked him in the lip with a size 14 olive elk-hair caddis while fly fishing in southwestern Colorado. It stung like the dickens, too. I had to spend two hours in a hospital in Durango waiting for a doctor to extract it. At least I didn’t lose the fly.

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